Texas Highest In Nation In Workplace Deaths

Workplace Accidents

workplace-injuries-300x200The state of Texas has the highest rate of on-the-job deaths when compared to any other state in the country. According to the Dallas Morning News, workers are 12% more likely to be killed on the job than a worker doing the same job in any other state. While excess deaths among the labor industry are an issue across the country, Texas’ high rate of deaths should be possible to avoid.

As a right-to-work state, laborers can work in Texas without needing to join a union. For many workers, this provides more opportunities to be hired for work. However, a union has the power to require all workers be trained and all jobs they work meet every safety requirement. When workers are not part of a union, it is much more difficult for them to make demands from any sort of job. Many are treated as independent contractors so there is no required minimum hourly wage, no overtime, no required safety training or equipment, and no compensation for on-the-job injuries. Texas has the sixth lowest rate of union membership of any state in the country.

Economy May Be Linked To Unsafe Work Conditions

Lately the influx of excess deaths in Texas has been a result of the successful economy Texas has experienced in recent years. Many workers have come to Texas where it is easier to find and secure jobs. A higher demand for work means companies are able to neglect more safety regulations and it is even harder for workers to speak up about unsafe work conditions.

In addition to the lack of union control and regulation, Texas is one of 26 states that does not have an occupational safety inspection agency. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in charge of the safety of workers in states like Texas, making it tough for any one agency to ensure the safety of workers in the state. OSHA has set requirements states must meet, however a 2010 inspector general’s report showed that OSHA has no methods of determining if a state meets requirements.

Construction workers and others in the labor industry are often scaling walls, working on top of buildings or in other environments where injury and/or death is likely to happen if proper safety regulations are not met. The state of Texas is far from being one of the safest for workers and the state has a long way to go in order to ensure workers in the state are looked out for, both physically and legally.

Construction Workers Injured in Fatal South Texas Home Collapse

08152014A demolition crew was trapped inside the wreckage of a house they were taking down when the structure collapsed on August 14. Three men, including the owner of the house, were working on demolishing the home located in Gregory, Texas when the structure reportedly became unstable.

According to police Sgt. David G. Martinez, one of the men suffered fatal injuries while another was taken to Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial with serious injuries. He was listed in critical condition but stabilized after his arrival. The homeowner at first refused treatment but was later taken to the hospital with undetermined injuries, according to reports.

Crews investigated the wreckage and according to Fire Chief Juan Jimenez, the men had removed most of the walls of the structure and the wooden house collapsed in on them.

Demolition and construction accidents are some of the most common workplace accidents due to the hazardous and hectic nature of the workplace. Workers injured on a construction site should be covered under workers’ compensation, but if the injury was due to the negligence of another party, the worker may be able to bring a lawsuit against the liable party for the damages they suffered.

If injured in a construction site accident, it is important to alert your supervisor immediately so you can recover workers’ compensation benefits. After filing your injury report, speak to the trial-ready Dallas construction site accident attorneys at Reyes Browne Reyes to determine if you have a larger legal case to pursue.

Construction Site Building Collapse in Haltom City Kills Worker

07112014One construction worker is dead and two others were injured when a ceiling collapsed at a building renovation. According to reports from Haltom City Police Department, the accident occurred in the old Hawks Electronics building on the 5700 block of Airport Freeway early morning July 10.

Deputy Chief Fred Napp of the Haltom City Fire Department confirmed that the building was not occupied by tenants and was under construction. His crews will examine the building and call in experts to assess the structural integrity before work on the renovation is allowed to resume.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner first identified the victim as 28-year-old Julio Menendez of Dallas, but after reporters from Telemundo 39 spoke with the victim’s family, he was properly identified as 32-year-old Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez, a Guatemalan citizen, was allegedly using a fake ID listing the address of a store near where he was living.

Construction is one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S. due to the hectic and sometimes unpredictable conditions at construction sites. Construction site accidents often result in death due to the heavy equipment, high risk of unhealthy environmental exposures, and instability of ground and building features. Construction safety is obviously important while on the worksite. Although little is known about the circumstances of this accident, safety gear and proper site maintenance are vital to all workers’ safety.

Image courtesy MyFOXdfw

Bounce House Operators Must Carry Liability, But Not Fertilizer Companies?

Plant_Explosion_Investigation_1-300x207Karl Magerheimer owns a family bounce house business for which Texas law requires him to carry $1 million in liability insurance. Of course, kids get hurt by bounce houses that are not properly secured and flip over. So this law is not unreasonable.  Other businesses required to have insurance covering injuries, deaths and property damage include home exterminators, air conditioning repairmen, tow truck drivers and many more.

Conversely, plants that house and mix dangerous materials like West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas are a different story.  On April 17, 5 people were killed and 200 more were injured due to fire and explosion of mammoth proportions in West. Three state agencies couldn’t explain why NO liability insurance coverage was required for such companies.  Additionally, the Texas Department of Insurance reported that it only oversees insurance companies and the amusement ride industry.  According to insurance spokesman Jerry Hagins, “We don’t make law.  We implement law.”

The tragedy in West, Texas brings to light how flawed the system truly is in regard to insurance coverage.  During a hearing last week of the House homeland and security and public safety committee, this issue was discussed.  As is standard protocol with any governmental agency, change will be super-slow.  Joe Pickett, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the committee, said it was “too late in the legislation session” to get anything done in a timely manner.  “We don’t even have enough information,” he said.  Pickett called for a mid-June hearing to give all agencies and lawmakers more time for information.

There is apparently no governmental list of which businesses must have liability coverage.  However, most businesses carry liability coverage as standard industry practice.  In the case of West, Texas, the fertilizer company had only $1 million in coverage.  What’s worse, if the plant is found negligent, its policy would only pay $100 million in property losses that were estimated by the Insurance Council of Texas.  So why did West Fertilizer only carry $1 million in coverage when there was such potential for hazardous disasters?  We have no answers from either the company or its insurer to date.  The awful explosion literally took down hundreds of homes and structures in a 35-block radius.  Imagine the magnitude of 35 blocks!  The cause of the blast is yet to be determined, but it is speculated that the plant’s storage of ammonium nitrate, which is widely used as a crop fertilizer and part of an explosive mixture in mining, is the culprit.  West stored around 270 tons of this hazardous substance last year – one of the largest stores in Texas.

Two negligence suits have been filed against West Fertilizer on behalf of its victims by Tyler attorney Randy C. Roberts, who said his clients are in a real bind.  $1 million dollars is a drop in the bucket for compensation of their losses

Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council, sounded like he was making excuses by saying that $1 million is a common amount for commercial property coverage, and that explosions triggered by ammonium nitrate don’t happen frequently.  In the defense of West Fertilizer and its insurance company, he claimed that they may have balanced that fact against the risks. He went on to say that lawmakers do not like to tell businesses how much insurance to purchase.

Really?  Then why are amusement ride owners required to have proof of minimum insurance and an annual safety inspection?  In fact, the amounts are at least $1 million per incident for bodily injury and $500,000 for property damage.  Additionally, the Department of Agriculture has similar requirements of residential and business pest companies, with at least $200,000 in liability for bodily injury and property damage.

According to the Dallas Morning News, no one in our state government keeps a centralized list of businesses required by law to have liability coverage.  But here is a list the publication identified:

*combined bodily injury and property damage per occurrence

**insurance required by law but amount not proscribed

Amusement ride operators$1.5 million
Elevator/escalator contractors$1.5 million
Residential appliance installers$600,000
Emergency medical services providers$500,000
Tow trucks (non-accident work)$300,000
Structural pest control$300,000
Used automotive parts recyclers$250,000
Emergency/personal fall alarm responders$200,000
Air conditioning (lowest level)$200,000
Substance abuse treatment facilities**N/A

NOTES: Certain companies, such as those handling hazardous waste, must show proof of financial responsibility to cover third parties. Combative sports like mixed-martial arts and boxing provide surety bonds and medical coverage.

SOURCES: Departments of Insurance, Agriculture, Licensing and Regulation, and State Health Services; and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Reyes | Browne | Reilley has recovered millions of dollars for victims and their families from commercial premises, industrial and construction site accidents. If you or someone you know suffered injuries this or any other type of accident, please call us for a complementary consultation. You are under no obligation to use our services. Call us today at 214-526-7900, or submit the short case review form on the right.

Safety For Workers, And Its Real Cost

shutterstock_111007946-300x300One primary reason that industrial and manufacturing companies don’t take better precautions? Why, money of course. Most companies are in the business of making money, period. And the risk to their workers becomes secondary to that goal. West, Texas… anyone?

Below is a great article I found on The Huffington Post:

One Reason Accidents Happen Is Because Safety Costs Money

Original Article By: David Macaray

There’s a reason why so many industrial and manufacturing companies resort to almost any means (some of them not entirely legal) to dissuade employees from joining a labor union. Besides having to offer higher wages and improved benefits (and giving employees a voice in how they’re treated by management), they are required to provide a safe work environment. The union’s on-site safety committee will demand it.

While no company wants to see its employees maimed or killed, it goes without saying that every company is interested in saving money. After all, with the bottom-line being what it’s all about, most companies are hyper-aware that safety programs cost money. Money for structural integrity, money for regular maintenance, money for machine guards, money for ergonomics, money for training.

The collapse of the building in Savar, Bangladesh, a suburb of Dhaka, on April 24, which killed hundreds of textile workers (the exact number is still to be determined), is tragic testimony to that fact. While one’s first impulse is to write off those Bangladeshi mills as Third World hell-holes–low wages, teenage workers (mainly girls), long hours, deplorable conditions–it should be noted that they’re probably no worse than American textile mills of a century ago.

It’s true. American mills of the late 19th and early 20th century were horrendously grim enterprises, cramped, poorly lighted industrial dungeons, something straight out of a Dickens’ novel. Of course, today’s factories (at least the ones that haven’t been shipped overseas) are bright, clean and relatively safe. So what happened? What caused those New England textile mills of a century ago to improve themselves?

Does credit go to our politicians? Was these improvements the result of changes in state and federal laws? Or was it the Church who, having seen enough degradation, finally chose to intervene? Or perhaps it was an outcry from the general public, demanding that workers (even young immigrant women) be treated humanely? Answer: None of the above. It was the rise of the American labor movement that made it possible.

Which takes us back to Bangladesh (and tangentially, to Vietnam, Indonesia, Honduras, Malaysia, the Philippines, et al). Bangladesh’s economy is almost totally dependent upon textiles. When you talk about Bangladesh revenue, you’re talking about one thing: textiles. As alarming an observation as it is, if you took away the garment industry, there would be no Bangladesh.

The New York Times reported (April 29, 2013) that there are a staggering 100,000 garment factories in and around the city of Dhaka, employing 3,000,000 people, but that there are only 18 full-time safety inspectors to monitor the industry. That number is not only miniscule, it’s close to ridiculous. And of course, all of the aforementioned countries, with Bangladesh leading the charge, are vehemently anti-union.

But increasing the number of roving safety field agents isn’t the answer, not in Bangladesh, not in Vietnam, not in the U.S. Just as Wall Street easily outwits government agents assigned to ferret out financial mischief, businesses regularly sidestep federal safety watchdogs. People who say we don’t need labor unions because we have OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), don’t understand OSHA. Even OSHA reps (and I’ve spoken to them personally) will admit they can’t do it all. The agency is under-funded, under-manned, and under-appreciated.

That Bangladesh building collapse was no more a coincidence than was the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia, on April 5, 2010, the one that killed 29 miners. Massey was a non-union mine. Companies are nothing if not inveterate cost-cutters, and accordingly, safety programs cost money. Say what you will about labor unions, but they aren’t going to ignore unsafe working conditions, not when their lives depend on it.

Reyes | Browne | Reilley has recovered millions of dollars for victims and their families from industrial and construction site accident lawsuits. If you or someone you know suffered injuries this or any other type of accident, please call us for a complementary consultation. You are under no obligation to use our services. Call us today at 214-526-7900, or submit the short case review form on the right.

Link to the original article.

Offshore Workers Death Rate 7x Higher

shutterstock_131543975-300x200According to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offshore oil and gas workers are seven times more likely to die on the job than average US workers. From 2003 to 2010, the CDC revealed that 128 people died in such accidents as 2010’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, which killed eleven people. This accident was mentioned in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Out of the 128 people who died, 65 were related to transportation and 49 of those 65 were due to helicopter accidents caused primarily by poor weather and mechanical failures. In 2009, new safety measures were implemented and as of the end of 2012, there have been no weather-related helicopter crashes.

Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the death rate for offshore workers is 27.1 per 100,000. Conversely, the average death rate for US workers is 3.8 per 100,000. The facts speak for themselves. What’s worse, these offshore oil and gas workers only made an average of $37,640 a year in 2010. Perhaps the death toll and low pay are the primary reasons CNBC named this profession “one of the worst 10 jobs in America” in early April. Safety conditions for this type of dangerous work must be held to higher standards. Furthermore, the families of the victims of these deaths should be fairly compensated for their losses. Just like Big Pharma, the oil and gas industry is extremely profitable. The corporations behind these travesties of justice must be held accountable.

Reyes | Browne | Reilley has recovered millions of dollars for victims and their families from industrial and worksite accident lawsuits. If you or someone you know suffered injuries this or any other type of accident, please call us for a complementary consultation. You are under no obligation to use our services. Call us today at 214-526-7900, or submit the short case review form on the right.

Workplace Accidents Kill More Than Terrorist Attacks

texas-explosion-300x199Given all the initial press surrounding Boston, MA and West, TX, labor advocates are attempting to put the spotlight on an important issue – workplace safety.  Various groups pushing for safety at the workplace or in factories claim that hazardous conditions are mostly ignored by the media and general public.  However in 2011, workplace accidents killed 4,609 Americans, while only 17 Americans died from terrorist attacks.

There were many theories surrounding the explosion, but once they were ruled out, media coverage died down and the primary focus remained on the Boston Marathon.The West, Texas explosion was determined to be an industrial accident which killed 14 people and injured 200.

So why did that make this horrible incident far less important than the Boston Marathon to the media?  Primarily because the Boston bombings comprised the first major attack on our country since September 11, 2001.  Additionally, Grant Duwe, author of “Mass Murder in the United States: A History,” said last week that “History has shown that the public is generally more interested in crime which is unusual and dramatic and something that is violent and occurs infrequently.”

But the fact remains that what happened in West was tragic in terms of lives lost and injuries. There were tons of potentially explosive chemicals at the fertilizer plant.  However, regulators paid no attention to the possibility of danger.  Further, the company’s emergency response plan which was filed with the Environment Protection Agency in 2011, reported that there was no risk of fire or explosion at the plant – a ludicrous claim.   And the last time the Occupational Safety and Health Administration visited this plant was in 1985.  This agency has been grossly understaffed and underfunded for quite sometime.

Will workplace safety ever become a priority in this country?  Only time will tell.  But undoubtedly, more resources and manpower must be devoted to this important issue.